‘Starrs’ shine bright at Special Olympics

Athletes+and+volunteers+for+the+annual+Fayette+County+Special+Olympics+walk+around+the+track+at+McIntosh+High+School+for+the+Opening+Ceremonies.+Special+Olympics+is+an+annual+event+that+allows+students+with+disabilities+an+opportunity+to+showcase+their+athletic+talents+and+to+spend+time+with+their+peers%E2%80%99.+

Aelise Gagliano

Athletes and volunteers for the annual Fayette County Special Olympics walk around the track at McIntosh High School for the Opening Ceremonies. Special Olympics is an annual event that allows students with disabilities an opportunity to showcase their athletic talents and to spend time with their peers’.

Spencer Dawson, Features co-Editor

On April 13, students at the elementary, middle, and high school level came from all around Fayette County to McIntosh High School for the annual Fayette County Special Olympics, an event which allows students with disabilities an opportunity to showcase their talents and enjoy time with their peers from other schools. “Special Olympics is a life changing event for many students,” Starr’s Mill Peers Are Linking Students sponsor Shannon Gagliano said.

This year, there were 196 participating athletes from the Fayette County District as well the Joseph Sams School. These athletes chose which events they would like to participate in. Their options included long jump, shot put, 50 meter dash, 100 meter dash and free time to socialize and play games in the Olympics Village.  

It helps students realize that there is so much joy in life and that all kids need to be supported and loved.”

— PALS sponsor Shannon Gagliano

In addition, there were over 160 volunteers who served as the athletes’ buddies, many of whom are members of PALS. This club promotes unity and friendship between students with disabilities and their peers at local high schools. McIntosh, Sandy Creek High, Whitewater High and Starr’s Mill all had representatives volunteering through PALS. Many students volunteer more than once due to the lasting impact it leaves. “I even had a former student who was an active member of PALS email me yesterday saying that working with kids with special needs was a life changer for him.  He is seeking to start a club at Auburn University because of this,” Gagliano said. “It helps students realize that there is so much joy in life and that all kids need to be supported and loved.”

Many previous volunteers choose to combine their love for these students with their profession. “Over the past ten years since Mrs. Gagliano and I started PALS and have had this club involved in Special Olympics, countless students who were involved have become special education educators, interpreters, occupational therapists, and attorneys for special needs people,” Starr’s Mill PALS sponsor Cindy Hartpence said.  

Those who do choose to volunteer would agree this is an unforgettable opportunity that should not be passed up. This was senior Abby Davis’s second year participating in Special Olympics. This year, she helped with the games and activities in Olympic Village. “I loved bowling with them because I really enjoyed seeing how happy the athletes got once they knocked all of the pins down,” Davis said. “I loved it and highly recommend it to anyone that has a chance to do it.”

Although this event takes place over the course of a day, the impact it leaves on the athletes and the volunteers can last a lifetime. “There isn’t a year that goes by that I do not hear from a former Starr’s Mill student who shares with me that they are volunteering at Special Olympics where they are attending college, or in their community where they now live. Our students here at Starr’s Mill often say they realized after volunteering how they take things for granted in their daily life and appreciated the effort and joy the athletes show while participating in sports,” Cindy Hartpence said.  “Even though these athletes have a life full of challenges their outlook and demeanor stay tremendously positive. Anyone attending Special Olympics just can’t help but smile the whole day through.”